Robottom: Building back better and stronger

Published 12:01 am Saturday, August 15, 2015

As August 29, 2015 approaches, so does the 3rd anniversary of Hurricane Isaac and the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.   Both are considered the worst disasters in history for each of our respective areas, but both have highlighted the resiliency of our residents, our communities and Southeast Louisiana.

Resiliency is the new buzz word to describe what has occurred in our area, specifically St. John the Baptist Parish. We are the poster child and example of what happens when the community has a strong desire to build back better and stronger and not just to recover.

Hurricanes Isaac and Katrina were devastating, but out of this devastation came opportunity to learn from the experience and to begin building back in a manner that can withstand future disasters. Over the past 10 years, we have endured Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike and Isaac, Tropical Storm Lee and the BP oil spill. Despite the number of these events, the economy is thriving which is primarily due to disaster recovery funds pumped into our areas.

These are one-time funds, but if used properly and leveraged to secure additional funds, many of our long standing infrastructure and community needs can be addressed. When disasters occur, local and state governments are at the mercy of the Federal Government, which can be slow and bureaucratic. As community leaders, it is imperative that we strengthen our communities and help our residents and business owners become more resilient and self-sufficient.

The federal government is realizing that their practice of restoring communities to their pre-disaster level, sets them up for repeatedly providing restoration funding for future disasters. FEMA recently initiated a new initiative known as the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF) and St. John the Baptist Parish was the first community to embrace and fully implement the new recovery initiative. The resulting document was a culmination of citizen-driven projects and funding options to guide recovery and development for the next 10 years. As a result of this successful effort, St. John the Baptist Parish is looked to as a best practice for engaging community participation.

Working with our state and federal partners, St. John the Baptist Parish is taking advantage of a new $1 billon federal grant opportunity. The National Resiliency Competition, which is funded through the Community Development Block Grant disaster recovery appropriation, promotes risk assessment, planning, and innovative resilience projects. St. John the Baptist was targeted for participation in the competition because of the impact of Hurricane Isaac, as well as our recovery plan drafted during the NDRF process.

This competition provides another opportunity to fund long-standing needs that are critical to establishing long-term resiliency. Because our plan is in place and includes projects and strategies to improve water infrastructure, housing, transportation and a sustainable power source, we successfully completed Phase I of the competition and qualified for Phase II.

We are extremely optimistic about our chances in this competition, but continue to solicit input from community stakeholders and industry partners. Levee protection is ultimately the best means of building resiliency and the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain Levee Project is finally moving forward. However, we must continue to work on our community’s recovery in a manner that is sustainable and resilient.

As the 3rd anniversary of Hurricane Isaac approaches, it is a great opportunity to look back with gratitude that no lives were lost and our community is well on its way to a full recovery. The progress over the past 3 years is clearly the result of a collaborative effort between the community and our local, state and federal partners. Thank you to everyone who has helped to this point and to those who remain engaged in furthering our quest to “Build Back Better and Stronger”.

Natalie Robottom is St. John the Baptist Parish President. She can be reached at